Michael Tierney

Step by Step, Big Ugly

As we talk with our gardeners as the 2017 growing season closes and we wrap up our 2018 proposal to Grow Appalachia, we reflect on a challenging but rewarding year that highlights why promoting gardening remains one of the best and most difficult things we do.

Whenever two gardeners gather there will be at least three opinions on any gardening topic.   Gardeners sharing their successes and supporting each other through their losses remain the highlights of the year making the series of six required workshops a consistent source of fellowship. The specific instruction is gravy—people really want to know how each other’s gardens are doing: did the new variety of tomato work out; did the pepper and garlic (or rotten egg) sprays work with garden pests? (One instructor presented to us some of the dangers of the “natural” pesticides including some promoted at last February’s All Hands Gathering (organic poison is still poison so protect yourselves when using it)  Gardeners facing the challenge of diabetes and heart conditions in their own lives shared their healthy food tips.  And recipes flowed freely after people tried their new food processing equipment.

Since 100 year floods are the new normal, we were relieved that far fewer friends lost their gardens this spring, although the persistent rain kept many gardeners from starting until late in the season.  Canning workshops were well attended.  Vacuum sealers for freezing the harvest were the hit gadgets of the year. Local extension agents Dave Roberts and Dana Wright again came through. And long term friend Jenny Totten (who started in this line of community development work as a VISTA with Step by Step many years ago) made the trek from her new home in McDowell County several times to respond to our gardeners needs.

In a year that our core leaders Marcelle St Germain and Bea Sias faced personal and family health challenges, others rose to the occasion to take leadership.  Our greenhouse would never have made it without the hard work of Brittany Dalton, Boone County gardener Tony Smoot, and the growing participation of the Coalfield Development Corporation crew. Other partners who made all the difference including Mary Nally from Athens Ohio who again provided seed potatoes, Buck West who literally became a right hand (after Bea broke her arm) for both our Lincoln and Logan county logistics, and we were grateful that our fertilizer came to us in a timely way this year with the assistance of Lori Osborne.

Big Ugly Wood-shop LOGO

This was a year that we learned a lot about partnerships. We look forward to the expansion of our relationship with our jobs training crew from Coalfield Development Corporation who will receive guidance from Coalfield’s agricultural wing, Refresh Appalachia.  They’ve helped us develop a logo for Big Ugly’s entrepreneurial efforts from the woodshop that produced over 400 bee boxes this spring to our anticipated Big Ugly Eats (value added foods from our gardeners) and Big Ugly Elixers (a planned line of medicinal herbs).